Spring is in full flow here in the beautiful Quercy. The countryside is foaming with blossom. Rivers of blackthorn, late after the freezing winter have run into the cherry, wild pear, plum and quince, providing a fountain of confetti for the thousands of avian brides newly arrived from their overwintering grounds in Tropical Africa.
As I drove down through the vines yesterday, delicious spreads of butter-yellow cowslips covered the verges. The crowded woods created a chartreuse backdrop and the enticingly warm breezes lured me from the car for a quick ramble through pristine fields of new meadow flowers. A delightfully sensuous distraction, because I was actually on my way down to the market in Prayssac, which was overflowing with the first signs of really warm weather. Every other stall sported a delectable pile of plump asparagus tips, streaked purple and white. There were huge crates of sweet, sweet Garriguette strawberries, the first of the year and selling faster than wine. The courgettes were up there too, tiny green thumbs with flowers still attached, nudging the shiny, swollen aubergines their purple partners in the culinary dance we call ratatouille. And everywhere pots and pots of new herbs. Basil and marjoram, fennel, tarragon and chervil, rosemary, parsley and sages and thymes of all colours. I succumbed naughtily to a couple of irresistible pots of basil and a truly stupendous rosemary, in full pale bloom, for only two euros. Bargain. Right in the corner, in the shade of the church wall, I found what I was looking for, the early geraniums. It’s still very early for these most distinctive of Mediterranean summer plants, but the frosts have been banished to the far north, and the little scarlet and pink nodding heads are just peeping out onto a benign world. Before long there will be a mass of them. Every window ledge, every stone step and every dining table will have its geranium, but just now they are a novelty – new and fresh, the welcome harbingers of summer.
Out in the place, where the rapidly swelling market billows out into the road, the cafes are spilling in the same direction. Tourists have begun to seep in; they can be spotted by their sunglasses and their immaculate pale clothes. They chatter excitedly and ask me if I know the French for free-range chicken. I tell them, and watch indulgently as they approach the Poulet Roti stall. It’s a magnet for tourists, and rightly so, the irresistible aroma wafts over the market making hundreds of tummies rumble.
I turn the other way and cross the place to buy a good, yeasty baguette. Glancing down the street I notice the traffic has come to its summer-standstill, cars have taken advantage and are parked in every gap, facing in all directions. Behind them the café tables are spread under the cool shade of the plane trees and adorned with bottles of Coke and Perrier, foaming glasses of beer and shots of the deepest, darkest coffee. It’s all charmingly chaotic.
Southern France at the beginning of summer is a blissful place to be.
© Amanda Lawrence 2010
Author White Stone Black Wine